berets, baguettes and bikes

History of the Beret

Although worn as military headgear in ancient Greece, the modern origin of the beret is traced to the Basques, people living on both the French and Spanish sides of the Pyrenees Mountains. Centuries ago, the Basques were great fishermen and sailors, a fact that might explain the appearance of a very similar hat in Scotland. Both the Scotch tam and the beret are woven in one piece without a seam or a binding. The original Basque beret was either navy blue or red, but today the beret is available in a wide array of colors. An influence of WW1 was the general adoption for sports wear by both men and women, of that very smart dark blue cap worn by the French Alpine troops, the age-old Basque beret. Few items of clothing have been adopted by so many varied groups of people living in different periods of history as the beret. In WWII, the French Resistance movement, the Maquis, wore the Basque beret. Because it was the most common French headwear, the Maquis was able to wear it without bringing undue suspicion to this covert operation. The covert military connotation was propelled further when the beret was taken up by special forces, often with the suggestion of 'undress' uniform, such as USA Green Berets, Black Berets (USA Rangers), UN Blue Berets, to name a few. It was a short leap for these sub-surface ciphers to have been embraced by artists and revolutionaries. Che Guevara, a hero of the Cuban revolution, made the beret a worldwide symbol of the revolutionary guerilla fighter. The Guardian Angels, a vigilante group who patrols the subways and streets of some of the world's major cities, wear red berets. And who can forget that American artist and revolutionary, Monica Lewinsky hugging President Clinton in her beret?

 

Interested in more than just the history of berets? Shop for berets.

 

The photograph of the man and boy on a bike is the work of Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos. More information about Mr. Erwitt and his work can be found here.

 

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